Corn Commentary

Food Dialogue at a Farmers Market

In New York recently for meetings of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and its Food Dialogues town hall, I was able to visit the popular Union Square Greenmarket with two farmers who are finalists for the USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching competition. Daphne Holterman is a dairy farmer from Wisconsin, and Tim Nilsen is a turkey farmer from California.

As someone who was raised in, and has always lived in, the suburbs, I am intrigued both by life in the country and life in the city. The farmers market tour was a good way to see how fresh food makes it to an urban core like Lower Manhattan. In fact, the Union Square location, which in peak season has 140 regional farmers, fishermen, and bakers, is one of 54 markets in the New York City area operated by Grow NYC, with more than 230 family farms and fishermen participating. These farms represent more than 30,000 acres of farmland protected from development.

Working with Daphne and Tim was a great experience, in part because I am so used to corn farmers that it is often refreshing to learn new things from other sectors in agriculture, something I appreciate about my activity with USFRA. From Daphne, I learned that 87 percent of milk produced in Wisconsin becomes cheese; and Tim had to explain how he does not raise Thanksgiving turkeys. His are much larger (50 pounds!) and are used for deli meat and ground turkey products.

USFRA has been a great attempt to unite agriculture, and while it’s brought together commodity growers fairly easily, it remains sincere in its attempt to bring even more groups together. Feeding the country, and the world, will require an atmosphere where all farmers and ranchers can work together – commodity and specialty, large and small, conventional and organic. Just as our growers are dedicated to dialogue, transparency and continuous improvement, so too should all farmers be dedicated to working collaboratively and learning from each other.

In fact, we saw a lot of that in our New York meetings, and at the greenmarket on a cold November morning not long after a hurricane wreaked havoc, Daphne and Tim had some great conversations with some East Coast farmers who, as different as their farms may be from those in Wisconsin and California, are just as concerned as they are about farming sustainably and providing healthy food choices for all. The time has certainly come for a real food dialogue, and I’m proud to be part of USFRA’s efforts.

American Farmers Clarify Where the Money from Higher Food Prices Goes

Contrary to what many believe, higher food prices do not equal more money for farmers.

As the Northeast continues to deal with the effects of Hurricane Sandy, other parts of the United States are still dealing with the most severe and extensive drought in at least 25 years. And that drought has spurred some talk about whether consumers will pay more for food at the grocery store.

While the current USDA food-price forecast for 2012 is below some recent food-inflation rates, such as the spikes in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2011, shoppers can expect to pay a little more at the grocery checkout this year. And U.S. farmers, who saw firsthand the effects of the drought on their crops and livestock, want to be sure that consumers understand exactly where those extra food dollars end up. (Hint – it isn’t farmers’ pockets.)

“Believe me, as a farmer and a mom of one child, with another on the way, I definitely pay attention to food prices because they affect my family’s pocketbook, too,” says Iowa farmer and CommonGround volunteer Sara Ross. “I know it can sometimes be tough to look past the price tag. But it’s important for families to remember that, as Americans, we are very fortunate to only have to spend 10 percent of our income on food, versus the 18-25 percent spent by people in other countries around the world.”

Where does the money that families pay for their food go? CommonGround walks through the truth about food prices below:

 

OMG GMO!

One of the positive outcomes of the 2012 election was that Californians actually voted against Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of foods containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). However, those opposed to GMOs continue to attack the technology that increases safe, affordable and abundant food by stepping up their scare tactics.

GMOinside, for example, is urging people to “Celebrate a Non-GMO Thanksgiving!” Check this out:

Thanksgiving is a time for celebrating around the dinner table with family and friends. But, is there an unwanted guest at your table? You may not realize that many common Thanksgiving foods contain genetically engineered ingredients!

The website proceeds to provide a chart to help people “identify the GMOs in popular holiday foods” and urging them to “keep a look out for foods from companies that opposed Prop 37, such as Campbell’s, Coke, General Mills, Kraft, Nestle, Pepsi, Hershey, Unilever.” Oddly enough, turkey is not mentioned on the list, despite the fact that the majority of commercial turkey production uses corn for feed – and most feed corn is genetically-modified.

What really bugs me about the non-GMO movement is that the people who are most against modifying crops to prevent disease or tolerate drought are very much in favor of attempts to genetically-modify humans to prevent or eliminate diseases or increase life spans. What’s wrong with that picture?

One of the main reasons that Thanksgiving is celebrated during this time of the year is to give thanks for the blessings of the harvest. Instead of demonizing GMOs, we should be giving thanks for the scientific breakthroughs that continue to allow us to produce more bountiful harvests every year.

It’s almost Thanksgiving. So let’s talk turkey.

Today’s post originally ran on the Fuels America blog. Fuels America, of which the National Corn Growers Association is a founding member, is a coalition of organizations committed to protecting America’s Renewable Fuel Standard and promoting the benefits of all types of renewable fuel already growing in America. Fuels America is founded on a simple core principle: Renewable fuel is good for the U.S. economy, for our nation’s energy security and for the environment.

Some special interests are claiming that renewable fuel is raising the cost of your Thanksgiving turkey. The fact is that turkey prices are lower this year than they were in October of last year. Renewable fuel does not dictate the price of a turkey and it does not dictate the price of your food.

Despite a decrease in the price of a turkey, food prices on the whole have gone up. But that is a result of rising oil prices, which have skyrocketed since 2005.

The oil sector, threatened by increasing fuel diversity, is trying to mislead consumers to turn back the clock on our progress in creating alternatives to oil.

Let’s take a closer look. Corn makes up 3 cents of every dollar spent on food at the grocery store. The rest comes from things like transportation, marketing, labor and packaging. Those Super Bowl commercials advertising for your favorite snack aren’t cheap. And paying for the petroleum to transport food inputs isn’t cheap either. Costs like those—costs that have nothing to do with the crops that go into your food—make up $.84 of each food dollar you spend at the market. As oil prices fluctuate, food prices follow because petroleum is a large input into food prices. Corn is not.

The EPA set out to discover the true impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) on corn prices. And they found that the RFS has not had a significant impact on corn prices. In a study that included 500 scenarios, in nearly every case, EPA concluded that waiving the RFS for a year had no impact on corn prices.

Self-interested players are twisting the facts try to kill an industry that is creating American jobs, increasing our energy security and delivering alternatives to oil. Thanks to the EPA analyses, and a cornucopia of other data showing the reality that the RFS is working, we no longer need to eat the false choice between food and fuel.

For more information on Fuels America, click here.

Thankful for Affordable Turkey Dinner

It will cost about the same to gobble up your Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner this year as it did last year, according to the annual survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

“Our meal for 10 people that includes a 16-pound turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, relish tray, pumpkin pie… the whole nine yards… this year we think is going to cost us $49.48. And that’s only about 28 cents more than we were last year,” explained AFBF economist Bob Young during an interview at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention. That translates to less than a 1-percent price increase… not too bad when you consider how some commodity prices spiked due to the drought. In fact, Young pointed out that about the only thing that went up in the Thanksgiving basket was the price of the turkey, increasing just 4 cents a pound. “Given what feed costs did this year, that’s a pretty amazing thing,” he said.

Some prices are lower than a year ago. “A lot of the dairy products, the butter, the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie, went down,” said Young. “A lot of the bread products, surprisingly enough, went down – the cubed stuffing mix for example, the rolls went down.” And the price of a vegetable tray was exactly the same.

Farm Bureau has been reporting the price for an average Thanksgiving meal since 1986, when it cost $28.74. “You know, if you went back and bought a car in 1986, somehow I don’t think it would be quite the same kind of deal that we’re talking about for this dinner,” Young said.

In fact, comparing the increase in price between a new car and Thanksgiving dinner – yikes! The average price for a new car in 1986 was $9255 – this year it was $30,274 – an increase of a whopping 227%! The percentage increase for your turkey dinner this year compared to 1986 is just 42%. A great reason to be thankful for our food and our farmers this Thanksgiving!

Listen to my interview with Bob Young on the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving meal: Bob Young, AFBF economist

Kentucky Shoppers Taking CommonGround Farmers Home

CommonGround Kentucky will be reaching out to start a conversation between the moms who grow food and the moms who buy it all next year through a series of articles in Today’s Family magazine. A free publication offered throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana, the magazine looks at the topics facing families today.

With so much confusion surrounding food and farming, Today’s Family readers, like families across the country, are looking for real resources to help them address their concerns. CommonGround Kentucky volunteers highlighted in the series want to share their knowledge and experiences with their neighbors off of the farm so that no one has to fear their food.

Take a moment to check out the article on CommonGround Kentucky volunteer Amanda Gajdzik featured in the current issue. A farmer who, along with her husband, grows apples, peaches, corn and soybeans in addition to raising beef cattle, Gajdzik speaks from personal experiences when addressing issues such as why food prices sometimes rise and how she cares for her cattle.

Food Dialoguing in the Big Apple

The USFRA Food Dialogues hit the Big Apple last week with three sessions of panelists on a variety of pretty hot topics related to food and agriculture: Media, Marketing and Healthy Choices; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Antibiotics in Your Food; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Biotechnology (GMOs) in Your Food.

Among the panelists on the GMO session was Greg Jaffe, director of biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “There’s a lot of misinformation about this technology, about these products and that was clear from questions from the audience,” said Jaffe. “This kind of discussion is a good first step.”

Jaffe said this is a topic that brings out a lot of emotion. “I wish that wasn’t the case,” he said. “But I think for now it is going to continue to remain controversial.”

You can listen to an interview with Jaffe here: Interview with Greg Jaffe

The moderator for the New York Food Dialogues was Ali Velshi, CNN chief business correspondent, which he says includes the food industry.

Ali thought the event today was remarkable. “This is an area of which I have cursory understanding of,” he said. “I understand commodities and I understand economic impacts of droughts and storms, but I don’t have this degree of detail and granularity that we got today.”

He said it was great to get that and hear from the farmers who are really connected to the food and he was intrigued to hear all the differences of opinion on the controversial topics covered in the sessions. “People have very strong beliefs when it comes to food and that’s understandable,” he said.

You can listen to an interview with Velshi here: Interview with Ali Velshi

2012 USFRA Annual Mtg. & Food Dialogues Photo Album

American Ethanol and NASCAR Make a Splash in USA Today

In an era of compartmentalized media, USA Today holds a unique position. A truly national newspaper with circulation only surpassed by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today reaches Americans across the country every day with bright graphics and its bold layout.

This Friday, American Ethanol and NASCAR celebrated hitting the three million mile mark in a very public way running a full-page announcement on the back cover of the popular daily’s Sports section. Drawing readers in with a visually arresting image showing the American Ethanol flag flying high over the pulse pounding racetrack action, the spread also provided exciting information about what switching to a 15 percent ethanol fuel blend has done for the sport and could do for American drivers off track too.

For two years, every vehicle in every NASCAR race has raced toward victory with E15 in the tank. Through the American Ethanol and NASCAR partnership, the nation’s top drivers, whether they race in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Trucks series, have trusted their tanks to this sustainable, renewable biofuel blend.

What have they found?

Running on a 15 percent ethanol blend has not only reduced their emissions by 20 percent, it has actually increased their horsepower. Ethanol provides the performance NASCAR drivers demand and fuels the pulse quickening action that keeps fans on the edge of their seats.

American Ethanol and NASCAR want to share the great news and celebrate this achievement with NASCAR fans and environmentalists alike. Whether reading USA Today in a hotel lobby or at the end of a driveway, sports fans across the country are joining in the celebration of America’s homegrown sport’s successes running on its homegrown fuel.

Commentary from Former Ag Secretaries

A highlight of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting annual meeting last week in Kansas City was a panel featuring three former secretaries of agriculture – Bob Bergland of Minnesota who served under President Carter from 1977-81; John Block of Illinois who served President Reagan from 1981-86; and Clayton Yeutter of Nebraska who was agriculture secretary for George H.W. Bush from 1989-91 and also was U.S. Trade Representative for Reagan from 1985-89.

It was nearly two hours with these three outspoken gentlemen who took a variety of questions from farm broadcasters, so I’ll break it down into a few bite-sized pieces.

The former secretaries first took the opportunity to reflect on their time running USDA and tell a few “war stories.” Interestingly, all three talked about how much more bipartisan government was during their times. This was the longest segment of the program at 30 minutes, but that’s really only 10 minutes for each one to sum up some very interesting years they spent as agriculture secretary. Ag Secretaries opening comments

With the panel happening the day after the election, that question was number one and the three had answers that reflected their party affiliations – Bergland being the Democrat of the three. As to when a farm bill might be complete – Bergland said he had no idea, Yeutter expects a temporary fix and Block said the fiscal issues are more important. Ag Secretaries on election and farm bill

How about government regulations impacting agriculture? Block predicts the next four years will bring more regulations, and Yeutter again agreed while Bergland made the case that some regulations are necessary. Ag Secretaries on government regulation

A broad question encompassed the long term viability of current high prices, land values and feeding the world. Bergland said the population demands may force us to eat more cereal and less meat in the future, Yeutter believes feeding the nine billion by 2050 won’t be as big a problem as people are making it out to be, and Block talked a bit about food versus fuel. Ag Secretaries on feeding the world

Asked about the RFS and whether it should be considered a subsidy to corn growers, Bergland said he was dead set against all subsidies and thinks the budget will force the government to eliminate all subsides. Yeutter predicted that EPA will keep the RFS intact and Block agreed. Ag Secretaries on RFS

Did the secretaries have any advice about how to defend modern agricultural practices, specifically GMOs? Bergland recalled hysterical reactions in the 1930s when hybrid corn was first introduced, and Yeutter pointed out the international implications of the GMO debate. Ag Secretaries on GMOs

There was lots more, but those were a few highlights. It was an entertaining conversation!

2012 NAFB Convention Photo Album

Getting to Know New NCGA First VP

The newest member of the officer team for the National Corn Growers Association is Martin Barbre, a farmer from Carmi, Illinois. I had the opportunity to get to know Martin a little better at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) annual meeting last week in Kansas City.

Martin has been farming since he was 19 years old and now shares the operation about two hours east of St. Louis with his son. “Right now my passion is making sure that we have a future in agriculture for my son and all the other sons and daughters that are joining on the family farms,” said Martin.

Martin is concerned about the fact that Congress has yet to pass a farm bill. “We just went through a record drought, the need for that has never been more important, and yet Congress has not gotten the job done,” he said. “We’ve gone out this year and we still raised a pretty good job considering the conditions that we had. We’ve done our job, we’ve got the crop harvested, let’s get Congress to do their job and get us a farm bill for the next five years.” He says the corn growers would like to see a revenue-based protection plan tied to crop insurance.

The Barbre farm raised a corn crop this year that was about 30% of normal. “We had a lot of really bad acres,” said Martin. “Really, the heat hurt us more than the drought. We saw that evidenced by our irrigated fields that still weren’t up to par. The heat really affected pollination.”

This was the first year that Martin has attended the marathon interview session that is NAFB Trade Talk, but it won’t be his last. Listen to my interview with Martin from NAFB here: Interview with Martin Barbre

2012 NAFB Convention Photo Album



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